Monday, September 29, 2008

Thursday for F1 Drivers

The Formula One driver flies into the racetrack and spends some time with the team, checking that his car is OK and working out strategy for the weekend. He usually attends at least one press conference, and signs autographs for the many autograph hunters chasing him around. In the evening, the driver usually takes part in a sponsor function or press dinner, before escaping at about 10 p.m. to go to bed.

Why there are no women F1 drivers?

Formula One is a male-dominated sport. Most of the mechanics, engineers and other staff are male and there has been no female racing driver since Italian Giovanni Amati tried to qualify for races in 1992. It has often been argued that it is only prejudice that has prevented female racing drivers being successful in Formula One, but that is only part of the explanation. The physical demands of a Grand Prix car calls for massive upper body strength, something which women’s bodies are not designed for. It has also been argued that the cold-blooded aggression needed at the top level of the sport is helped a lot by male testosterone.

Important Characteristic of F1 Drivers

Yes, it’s true that any one who can fit into a Formula One car can drive a Formula One car – provided, of course, that they get the necessary instructions. But Formula One drivers aren’t just anybody, and it takes a special person to drive a Formula One car well. These are the main qualities a successful driver must have:
  • Physical strength and dexterity. Formula One cars are hard to drive at the limit. The massive G-forces experienced during cornering and under braking, as well as the incredible heat inside the cockpits, mean that drivers have to be very strong. The races also last almost two hours, meaning stamina is vital.
  • Mental alertness. Racing drivers are well aware that at 200 mph they cannot hesitate for a split second if they are to avoid crashing. Formula One stars have to maintain complete concentration for almost two hours, which pushes their minds to the limit. They have to look out for changing track conditions, they have to feel the changing characteristics of their cars and they have to look out for warning flags, pit signals and their rivals. It is tiring just thinking about it!
  •  Quick reaction times. One of the first lessons any driving instructor teaches you is to keep a safe distance from the car in front. This distance allows you enough reaction time to get out of trouble if an accident occurs or somebody brakes heavily. Formula One drivers have to throw that rule straight out of the window (if they had one) every time they climb into their Grand Prix cars. In the fight for victory they have to drive right behind their rivals’ cars at 200 mph. If a problem occurs ahead of them – like a spinning car or a piece of debris on the track – they have to rely on their super-quick reaction times to get them out of trouble. This skill not only enables them to keep their cars on the track, but also to stay out of trouble so that they can finish the race.
  •  Endurance. Being a good Formula One driver is not just about performing at the top of your game over one lap; it’s about performing at the top of your game for every single lap of a Grand Prix distance. Most races last about an hour and a half and during that time there’s no let up – except perhaps a few seconds to catch your breath during a pit stop. Drivers have to cope with the pressure of racing, avoid accidents, keep up to date with team strategy, and be able to endure the bumps, bangs, and the heat over this entire distance. This pressure is so intense that most drivers lose about 3kg of bodyweight through sweat in a normal Grand Prix.
  •  Being able to perform consistently at the top of their game without making costly mistakes. If you make a mistake pulling out of a junction in your road car at best you stall the car or, worse, cause an accident. Racing drivers can’t afford to make such mistakes and they have to get every single aspect of their job right when they’re driving at the limit. Although today’s semi-automatic gearboxes and computer controls make stalling a car more difficult, drivers still have to ensure that every time they turn the wheel or step on a pedal, they do so at exactly the right moment. They can’t afford to brake 10 metres too late or hit the accelerator pedal when they were meant to hit the brakes. The result may not just be a harmless spin; it could be a crash that puts them out of the race or even costs them the World Championship. Just as the driver expects the team to never get it wrong when they prepare his car, the team has the same expectations of the driver. If the driver makes a mistake that puts him out of the race he can expect a rough time when he walks back to his team garage.
  •  An appreciation for adventure and speed: Formula One drivers are incredibly competitive and love the thrill of racing. That is why many of them love racing their friends in karts when they are not at Grand Prix weekends. They also love taking part in adrenaline-based activities – be it parachuting, wind-surfing or cycling. They are, after all, some of the bravest sportsmen in the world.
  •  Courage: Formula One racing is not a sport for the shy or the timid. To race wheel-to-wheel with somebody at almost 200 mph takes incredible bravery – especially when they fully understand that one mistake could result in a crash that could injure or even kill them.
One of the skills of the best Formula One drivers is the ability to use so little of their brainpower to drive the car at top speed that they can concentrate on everything else that’s going on around them. Some drivers, like Michael Schumacher, are able to race at full speed and still watch the big television screens that line the circuit to see how their rivals are doing. Or they may watch for clues about tyre wear by looking at their rivals’ wheels. It’s no good being blindingly fast if you have to use all your brainpower just to keep the car on the road.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Formula One Driver's Role in the Team

So the driver just shows up on race weekend and, on the back of the work of all those people described earlier in this section, gets the glory and the girls? Well, the bit about the girls may be true, but a driver’s job doesn’t begin and end with driving the car in the practices, qualifying, and race. When not spending a few hours each day in the gym, he is either testing the car and working with the engineers to improve it, or he’s attending some sponsor function, making small talk with the people who pay the money and their guests, and often flying between countries to fit it all in. Drivers get the odd day off between races but not nearly as many as you might imagine. The very best drivers don’t simply drive the car fast, they inspire the whole team. Their attitude and personality can make the difference between a team of engineers and mechanics going through the motions to one that is buzzing at a winning pitch.
Michael Schumacher is renowned as a driver who motivates the entire race team. A typical test day for him at the Ferrari test track near the factory involves testing the car from around 8 a.m. to mid-day, then taking a lunch break that may include an impromptu football match with the mechanics, before getting back in the car and running until the daylight fades. In between lapping sessions, he’s back at the pits running through data with his engineers. At the end of the day, he has a full debrief that could last up to two hours, after which he may retire to his on-site private gym for a final flourish of physical training.
The best drivers drive the team on, always pushing everyone within it, being highly demanding behind the scenes but never publicly critical. They have a way of bringing out the best of those working around them. Some drivers never seem to achieve the success that their obvious driving talent suggests, and usually it’s nothing to do with bad luck but some shortfall in behind-the-scenes commitment and application.

Why a team mate is a driver’s biggest rival

Each Formula One team has two race drivers. The fact that these drivers are working for the same team and the same boss and representing the same sponsors suggests that they are working together towards the aim of team success. Even the term team mate suggests this. In reality a team mate is a driver’s deadliest rival – in most teams at least. Because motor sport in general, and Formula One in particular, is so machinery-dependent it’s not strictly possible to compare the individual performances of drivers from different teams. Is the guy who’s winning a mega-star in a competent car or a competent driver in a superlative car? And is the guy he’s beating actually a far better driver?
Everyone has their opinions, but no-one really knows for sure. But because team mates drive the exact same car, any differences in their respective performances are assumed to be down to those drivers and nothing more. Myths are often destroyed when a new team mate arrives in a team and puts the incumbent driver’s performance into a new perspective. Either the new guy regularly beats the guy with the big reputation, or he arrives with a big reputation himself but is seen off by the incumbent driver who wasn’t previously as highly rated. All this has a direct bearing on the salary a driver can command the following year; it can also affect the status of the team that he drives for in the future. Once a driver has been consistently out-performed by a team mate, it is rare that his Formula One career ever fully recovers. Formula One is a dog-eat-dog world.

Team orders and why they’re banned

Since the start of the 2003, Formula One rules have prohibited teams from interfering with the race order between their two drivers. This rather bizarre rule came into being as a result of the outcry against the Ferrari team at Austria in 2002 when their number two driver, Rubens Barrichello, had led all the way, with team leader Michael Schumacher in second. In the last few metres of the last lap, Barrichello lifted off and surrendered the win to Schumacher because he had been instructed to do so by the team over the radio.
The Formula One governing body felt that this action made something of a mockery of the sport, and created the ruling. But realistically, how can such a ban ever be imposed? Although teams are no longer allowed to scramble their radio signals, making it possible for the race director to listen in to team communications at any time, sporting rules cannot legislate for pre-arranged orders or “unfortunately” slow pit stops for the driver assigned to finish behind his team mate. The most effective way of ensuring no team orders is by having the front-running teams extremely closely matched so that any given team can no longer have the luxury of deciding which of their drivers it wants to win.

Truckies and catering staff

A Formula One team on the move is an awesome sight. Getting the team from place to place and feeding them along the way is a big responsibility that falls to the truckies and the catering staff.
Articulated trucks, which double up as technical debrief rooms, contain the cars. Other trucks contain the mobile palaces that form the team’s HQ during a race weekend. These unfold to create “buildings” containing every facility and luxury a team may need, including kitchens that the catering staff uses to feed the whole team and guests throughout the weekend.

F1 Logistics managers

So complex is the manufacturing and the movement of a team from test venue to factory to race in all sorts of combinations that logistics managers are employed to streamline the whole thing. These people use a technique called critical path analysis, which splits tasks into key operations and defines where a reduction in time for one element will be translated into a reduction in time for the entire task. This is not always the case. For example, a quicker heat treatment for a suspension component could simply mean that the heat treater is waiting longer before the next component is supplied to him.

Telemetry and how it helps the F1 team

Telemetry is the transference of data from one place to another, usually via radio signals. It is a technology that has taken much of the art away from Formula One and replaced it with science. It is also a great example of how some of the less glamorous race team members play an important role in the team’s performance in a race.
Until 2003, the telemetry between car and pit garage was two-way, but since then, only carto-pits telemetry has been allowed. Pits-to-car telemetry – which was being used to change operating parameters of the car even as it was racing – has been banned in an attempt to kerb costs.
As the cars are screaming round the track, they are transmitting readings from dozens of sensors. These readings are relayed to banks of computers in the team garages, manned by data analysts who look for any imminent technical problems on the car. Because some of these problems can be rectified by the driver before any damage is done, the analysts are in regular touch with the driver’s race engineer who can instruct the driver over the radio as necessary.
Automatic data-logging is different from telemetry. The latter is simply the transference of the former. Well before the race is underway, drivers and race engineers rely heavily on data logging as a tool to help them set up the car and improve their speed. The sensors record not only car information but also the driver’s physical inputs, as well as speeds throughout the duration of the lap.
In debriefs after a practice or qualifying session, driver and engineers look at the traces that show speeds at any point on the circuit, where the driver is braking and how hard, how much steering he is using, how much throttle and when. This information can be compared between different set-ups to find whether the driver’s instinctive feelings are confirmed or repudiated. They can also be compared between team mates to see where one driver is finding time over another and how. Telemetry also records and sends vital data on engine performance, temperatures, and fuel usage. In extreme situations, telemetry information allows a team to instruct the driver to switch off the engine before it blows up. Fuel usage information may be used to help a driver gain an extra lap or so before pitting. For this reason, telemetry is a vital tool in race tactics too.